Web Theft: What to do!
One of the absolutely FREE things we used to do when we were in art college was window shop.Â And lately, there's been a lot of that on the ever so fluid web. Â What should you do if someone steals some of your work online? Â Contrary to popular belief, things online are not free for the taking. Â Just ask the guy who downloaded all those songs in Boston who may end up spending $6,750,000 as a result of a recent court judgment. Â It's hard to understand how someone can be so disrespectful to the artists and writers whose work he stole. First, give your adoring fans the benefit of the doubt. Â I say this because that line "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" makes my blood boil. Â But not everyone is as aware as we are about copyright laws and fair use. Â If you need to brush up on copyright law, there's a neat little tutorial posted on the University of Texas website.
Debbie Stier, SVP, and Associate Publisher at HarperStudio says: "My true rule is that you should rock the boat. Don't let fear stop you, don't let what other people might think stop you, just push it as far as you can; rock the boat, take risks, and experiment." Read more of this kind of courage building stuff for creativesÂ here. Douglas Eby looks into the heart and soul of the creative and shows us how to go where we want fearlessly.
The antithesis of this is, of course, copying someone else's work. Â Should we have pity on the cretin who is too fearful to explore on his own and take the same risks we take in the normal course of our design day? Â Nah, go for the jugular. Â It's one thing to design an image and be well compensated for it, but stealing the work product of another is just pond scum behavior. Â Makes me want to grip the coward by the shoulders and shake, shake, shake while I chide them about doing their own thing and stop trying to do mine.
Jeff, the owner of Creative Armada, did a google search on his company name to see how he was doing with SEO. Â Shock and surprise when a relatively new company competing in the same industry popped up. They were using the name The Creative Armada with a very similar logo and feel to the website. Â Here are some steps you can take should you find yourself in the same position.
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First, make sure your work predates the suspected theft. Â Then run the site pages through this site, which compares offending pages to the originals by highlighting the copied work. Make screen shots of the comparisons as proof. You can find the site owner through Whois or the Domain White Pages. Â Next, send a cease and desist letter and copy yourself and, if you have one, your attorney. Â Chilling effects has a collection of cease and desist letters from various law firms, including such gems with cloaked daggers like this: Â
"This letter is intended to secure your voluntary agreement to cease from violatingÂ [insert your name] intellectual property rights."Â
Catch that word voluntary? Â You are giving them an opportunity to voluntarily remove the reputation soiling, equity diminishing version of your work before you totally take them to the cleaners. Â It's a good idea to include a list of things you will pursue if the offender does not remove the pirated version of your work within the time limit (per the DMCA: notify his ISP of plagiarism, notify Google and request the site no longer be indexed, etc.). Â If you don't set a time limit (e.g. 48 hours), you will have no recourse against the excuse of "I just haven't had the time." Â The devil is in the details.
Check back when the deadline arrives. Â If they have not complied with your request by the deadline you set, take the following actions in the order of your choice. Â First, and probably the most enjoyable part of your revenge, is publicity. Â An act of theft deserves the very best publicity. Â Pirated Sites advertises online thieves. Â Then contact their hosting company. Â Hosting companies can be a party to copyright infringement lawsuits, so they will pay attention. You can use Google's DMCA takedown provision to ask the ISP hosting the site in violation to remove offending content. Here's Google's description of how to submit a request.
Google will respond with:
"It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the text of which can be found at the U.S. Copyright Office web Site, http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/) and other applicable intellectual property laws, which may include removing or disabling access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity . . . " Â and then they will tell you how to proceed.
If, after doing all this, your thief continues to use the work, you may need to contact an attorney. Â Most offer a free initial consultation. Â Before you do, if you think you will wind up in court, file a federal copyright."Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin." This document has a very good overview. Â
Another useful resource is this site on plagiarism. Â Take a look when you're not doing cold calls, which I know you are making every time you have down time, right? Â I would like to note that many of these tips are from some very Wise Women that I know who spend their lives making fantastic websites. Â
And finally, here's a real life story of what happens when you follow through (it's also a good example of how designers should take the opportunity to educate the general population on these fine points):
Many years ago, one of my clients was getting heavy traffic on her small site. Looking at site stats, I saw heavy linkage to one of her illustrations. It turned out that a teacher in middle school was using an illustration for one of her teacher pages by direct linking. I changed the illustration to a new name, then sent an email to the school supervisor, explaining that this was theft, and asked for compensation for server usage and if my client wished, copyright infringement. This had been going on for years.
They asked how much we wanted. I told the school district that server consumption was an added issue and I wanted to see a token payment paid thru a public voucher so the school board would see it on the books. Â The amount wasn't important, but the education quotient on web theft for teachers was priceless. Â I wanted them to learn about how the internet really works, what copyright infringement is, and what it means to link to a server to enable the use of another person's images/work.
They were prompt on their response. I received a token payment of $100, the amount of which bypassed their petty cash and went on the public books; then they sent me their updated policy manuals including a schedule of classes for teachers to learn how it all works.
It wasn't the nominal $100 that pleased me. It was that this school district took real action about something they obviously didn't consider, the teachers learned, and then passed it on to students. A win-win for everyone.
Thanks toÂ Patrice Olivier-WilsonÂ for sharing that so we can all learn from her experience.
My second edition is ready and waiting for you at bookstores and Amazon; it's been updated and the resource guide has been completely revamped. Â Whether you are employed or freelancing, Start and Run a Creative Services Business will help you avoid the pitfalls of being a trusting creative in a dog-eat-dog world. Â I've shared all my mistakes and wild adventures both as an employee and as a freelance designer to help you avoid some of the pitfalls. My book prepares you for unscrupulous characters disguised as customers, vendors and professional peers and shows you how to protect yourself. Â You can read excerpts here and view my online portfolio, plus download my first promotional piece, Melon at the Plaza, NYC. Â Good luck and make great art!
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